UNCASVILLE — As a 49-39 lead at the start of the fourth quarter dwindled down to a precious point with 2:24 remaining in today’s Class S Championship at Mohegan Sun Arena, the members of the Trinity Catholic boys basketball team, like those who have followed them in the postseason, were mentally transported back three weeks ago.
“We were thinking Wilton again, FCIAC quarterfinals, and we couldn’t do that again,” said Pete Galgano, the Crusaders’ senior point guard.
This time there would be no late collapses like the one that sent Trinity to an early exit from the conference playoffs. There was a lot of bending, but on the ensuing possession Dutreil Contavio called for the ball in the paint, got an entry pass from Dimitry Moise and dunked for the team’s first field goal of the final quarter.
The Crusaders scored eight straight points and finished off a 61-52 win over top-seeded Westbrook for their seventh state title since 1995.
According to Trinity coach Mike Walsh, two days away from his 70th birthday, the Wilton loss might have proved an assist to the addition for the school’s trophy case.
“I thought the experience we had with that in the past helped us tonight,” Walsh said of the difficulties the Crusaders have had holding late leads. “The fact that we were able to settle down, regroup, kind of spread the floor and look inside. I thought that was the most important thing tonight.”
Contavio, who finished with 13 points, 13 rebounds, 5 blocks and altered the game with his defensive presence inside, said he wanted the ball and the opportunity to right his team. After Contavio got an entry pass from Moise and completed the play, he went over and gave his fellow Haitian a quick hug as they hurried back on defense.
“We are pulling all the time for each other,” Contavio said. “We play together that’s why. I know he will pass me the basketball and I will put it in.”
Moise stepped up with one of his best performances of the season, scoring 20 points, 16 in the first half as the sixth-seeded Crusaders (20-6) took a seven-point lead.
The Crusaders remedied problems that had haunted them and slowed their growth this season. They struggled defending the perimeter and allowed Westbrook five 3-point shots in the first quarter, but just two more the rest of the way. The Knights finished 7 for 27 behind the arc.
Westbrook needed to go outside because Contavio was a human “do not enter” sign in the paint. The raw potential is being realized, and the Crusaders were more than happy to see the ball in his hands in a situation that wasn’t quite a must-score possession, but was pretty close.
“The two guys inside, especially Contavio, he really alters the game,” Walsh said. “Eighteen months ago he was in Haiti and didn’t play basketball. Now he’s a pretty good basketball player and people are going to start realizing that, and I think he’s going to get a lot of offers after this AAU season. I’m happy to have him one more year anyway.”
Then there was Galgano, whose play has largely been a bellwether for the Crusaders. The only senior on the team who receives regular playing time, he made a big defensive stop on a three-on-one Westbrook break down the stretch and had a layup and two free throws in the final minute to secure the win.
“First Contavio scored and that was a key moment,” Galgano said. “That was probably it. Then we got a key stop. I just went for the ball and tried to do anything I could to stop it.”
Walsh said Galgano was a calming influence with the game on the line.
“He’s got a heart as big as the whole state of Connecticut,” Walsh said. “He’s really a good kid, a tough kid and he always seems to come up with the right play, the loose ball or something like that.”
With the starters playing all but eight minutes, Stephon McGill and Cameron Blake combined for 17 points and just one turnover handling the ball for Trinity.
The Crusaders made another pivotal improvement from the Wilton game.
“I think we had to take better shots,” Walsh said. “We were throwing up 3s when we didn’t have to. We had to move the ball around, get it inside if we could and I think we did a better job of it.”
Trinity now has won championships in all four classes, plus the former Division I.
“It feels great,” Galgano said. “We brought it back for TC, we brought it back for Coach Walsh.”
This is the least-experienced team Walsh has guided to a title, and he said it gave the accomplishment added significance after all the detours the past three months.
“I have really hard-working kids and I am really proud of that,” Walsh said.